Stories

These selections from the comments sections  tell stories about othorexia.  Some are particularly insightful, while others are just plain heartbreaking.  You may see reflections of yourself.

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Alexa writes: I recently came across your article and I believe that my sister is suffering from orthorexia. She is a hard core vegan who never strays from healthy eating and never misses a workout, even if she is injured. She has a lot of anxiety and she is constantly thinking about her next meal. She is pretty much the exact person that you described above. My mom and I are very concerned and we are just wondering if you can suggest somewhere that we can get help for her, or guide us in the right direction. We are kind of at a loss for what to do, or even what to say to her. Do you treat people for this?

My reply: I want to start out by saying that being a hard core vegan in itself doesn’t equate to orthorexia. It’s only orthorexia if it is diminishing her life in some way. If she enjoys it, and if she is eating adequate nutrition so that her health isn’t being harmed, my thought would be not to worry about it. It’s only if the interest in diet has become an unhealthy obsession, and is causing some kind of harm that the term orthorexia applies. I would suggest as a first step that you show her the essay, and see if it resonates for her.

Alexa replies: Oh I agree with you completely! I am also a vegan, and it is something that my sister and I have bonded over. However, her journey to eat healthier started about a year ago when she made a decision to start maintaing a healthier diet and exercising. She then decided that she wanted to become a vegan, which is fine, but since then she has lost an unnecessary 15 pounds and I find that she is restricting her diet more and more each day, cutting out carbs and other things because she thinks they will make her fat. She has a lot of digestive issues, and I think she is very hard on herself. I had her read this essay, as well as the questions on the ‘What is Orthorexia’ page, and she answered yes to all of them. She knows she has a problem, and she wants to make things right. She is only 15, so I am hopeful that she can turn her life around, but we just don’t know where to take her, or what to do.

My reply: OK, yes, you have now definitely illustrated the difference between being vegan and being orthorexic: If nothing else, it’s the fact that she knows she has a problem, and also that she is escalating the restrictions.

Dave writes: You go along in your life, and you have anxiety about your health. You feel that at any moment the finger of God can come down and strike you dead. Your sword and shield against this fear is: I can eat healthy food; this will protect me.  This becomes obviously exaggerated; you think that the cheese you eat today will give you a heart attack tomorrow, that the fast you go on tomorrow will save you from coming down with colon cancer next week.

But really, the sword and shield is not that pure food protects you from ill health; rather, you use the idea that food protects you from ill health to shield you from all anxiety.

Helene writes: My 30 y.o. son was muscular, trim and fit being 6 feet tall and 200 lbs. He always ate a healthy, balanced diet until about a year ago when he gradually became obsessed with food purity. His diet became more and more restrictive. He couldn’t eat at restaurants or at other people’s houses. If invited somewhere, he brought his own food. Only organic foods, specific combination regimens, not this, not that, etc… He spent hours everyday shopping, chopping, preparing, making mega messes in the kitchen and thinking about food. That’s all he talked about. He lost most of his friends over this compulsive, purist behavior and he gradually became more and more isolated.

He didn’t feel depressed and thought he was doing very well. He was proud of his will-power to maintain this extremely stringent regimen. He made remonstrances to us. Even when we were health conscious, it was never enough. If, for some reason, he felt like he had strayed from his diet, he compensated the next day by not eating, to detox. At times, he was very hungry and succombed to binge eating (all organic and healthy). He felt he was loosing control and became terrified of eating too much. He lost the sense of eating when hungry. He couldn’t keep up with all the time spent in the kitchen making his own sauerkraut, fermented veggies, spouted grains and beans, kefir, etc… It became easier to not eat and he started skipping more and more meals, especially at work. He got to the point where he wasn’t hungry anymore.

He rapidly lost weight. He lost all his muscles and became severely emaciated. Literally just skin and bones, he looked like a Holocaust survivor, all the while believing he was doing great and was healthy. He didn’t see himself as too thin. He had trouble moving, walking, lifting his arms. He fell asleep at the wheel several times. He went down to 109 lbs. His speech slowed as well as his mental functioning. His hands turned blue. His nails got deformed. His legs swelled. He was dying.

A few weeks ago, we finally found an eating disorder specialist who mentioned the name orthorexia. We read an article about it on-line and found this web-site. It fit to a T. It was very hopeful to finally see that he is not the only one experiencing this disorder. There is even a name for it (now) which is somehow reassuring because it means that someone recognizes that this conditions exists and there might be a way out of it.

My son is now working at recovering from it. He’s too weak to work. It is very difficult to break his obsessions and convince him to eat a wider variety of food. I hope he has not suffered permanent damage to his organs, particularly his heart. He so wanted to be healthy. This disease kills.

In our family, we believe in eating healthy and we do well with it. For him, it got out of hands. He got trapped in an obsession with food purity and almost died. Yes, it is ironic and weird. But it’s real.

Alyssa writes: Thank you for writing this. I suffer from Anorexia and Bulimia. When I’m doing well with my recovery from those, I find myself replacing them with Orthorexia. This article helped me see that I’m merely replacing one set of eating disorders with another. Now that I can recognize that, perhaps I can find a healthy, happy medium in which (despite being a life-long vegetarian) I can eat in a more moderate mentally healthy way.

M. writes: I just wanted you to know that your book was of great help to me a few years ago. I had slowly slid into Raw-veganism and, for me, it was unhealthy because I was obsessed. It’s quite a rabbit hole to fall into, if, like me, you have a perfectionistic/addictive personality. I came across your book when I was just contemplating leaving the Raw-Vegan lifestyle. There’s so much shame and (probably unintentional) manipulation in that lifestyle, if one is plugged into message boards or local groups. I felt enormous guilt and anguish at the thought of transistioning back to more balanced eating, and that is when I found your book. It was like “The Emporer’s New Clothes” and I felt such relief to know that, yeah, I had been crazy and that now I could eat whatever food and be ok. More importantly, I eventually overcame the obsession with food itself. By the way, I totally relate to the episode you wrote about the avocado at it’s peak stage of ripeness and your urgency to eat it. So true, lol! To haters: eat whatever you like, even vegan raw. As long as you don’t obsess over your diet, judge others morally on their diet and are able to comfortably eat foods not on your diet (rather than starve), you are perfectly fine and don’t fit the orthorexia criteria. No one is saying your ideology is wrong. It’s the people like me, who become obsessed who are/were sick who can be labeled, so just chill out.

Renee writes: I have not read your book but I’m very interested in this topic. One of the problems, as I see it, is that people recovering from anorexia/bulimia often have digestive problems. So when they seek out advice on how to heal their guts, and their doctors throw up their hands, the alternative health community is quick to respond by instructing them to cut out entire food groups and eat in a hyper-restrictive, hyper-vigilant way – which just fuels the fears and obsessions around food.

At least that’s what happened to me. I spent years and thousands of dollars seeking help formy digestive problems after anorexia, and I got nowhere. I just got more freaked out about food, more broke, more underweight and more sick. So my point is that people with anorexia/bulimia are more succeptible to orthorexia and that health practicioners should be cautious, when dealing with eating-disordered clients, to focus more on whether they are eating enough (which no one did with me, even though I was patently underweight), rather than convince them that they are hurting themselves by eating a normal North American diet, as I was let to believe.

TH writes: I have been trying to find a way to contact you since finding your article online describing orthorexia. My brother is in serious danger of losing his life due this disorder; values he holds in the extreme, apparently to the death in his case. He has been hospitalized for almost two months and unfortunately there is no sensitivity to his condition and the treatment to date seems almost as bad or worse than his condition. We are in Los Angeles. I would greatly appreciate a chance to speak with you and am seeking the benefit of your experience as I try to help him

Emily writes, “Wow. When I first heard of orthorexia last year, I realized that I had gone through it myself. I’m now in a place where I feel able to eat just about anything, though I choose healthy, home-cooked foods most of the time because I like them. I do not feel deprived. As a food therapist and health counselor, I still struggle to keep my diet suggestions simple: add in whole, organic, fresh foods (you’ll find that they quickly and effortlessly start to replace some of the “bad” food in your diet without having to use willpower), and focus on the other areas of your life (career, relationships, spirituality) where you are starving and need non-food sustenance.

Food is a powerful substance–as powerful as any drug or spiritual experience. Orthorexics suffer, I believe, from the same thing as fast-food addicts, overeaters, and anyone who puts their focus on the tangible: lack of purpose. We all need purpose in our lives: and purpose is found in our careers, relationships, and spiritual disciplines. We need exercise that isn’t only for the sake of effort or weight loss, but also for clearing our heads, enjoying our bodies and what they can do, and celebrating nature. When we are unhappy or focused too much on any one of these areas, we become imbalanced, and what we eat is almost always affected.”

Steven Home writes: Thank you for this wonderful article. As an herbalist and alternative healer, it has really bothered me how people become addicted to dietary “isms” that practically become a religion to them. I think people eat too much from their head and don’t pay enough attention to their bodies, that is, how food makes them feel.

I find there is no “perfect” diet. I do think people are wise to stay away from refined and processed foods in general, but I doubt that indulging in the occasional treat does them any serious harm. Different people have different allergens, so the fact that a particular food doesn’t suit me well doesn’t mean it’s universally “bad.”

Furthermore, our dietary needs change throughout our life. They change with the seasons of the year and the life stresses we are under. They change with the aging process, too.

Again, thank you for pointing out this “side effect” of trying to teach people to eat healthier.

GRP writes: “I have recently come out of a long and loving relationship with a wonderful young woman who suffers from this exact condition combined with OCD and an exercise compulsion. The amount of unrelenting, crippling stress and anxiety it placed on her, and to a degree myself as I tried to support and understand her, over the 4 1/2 years we were together is impossible for me to encapsulate in a few sentences. It is incredibly distressing to see someone go through this as they strive to do the best for themselves in such a self destructive way. Up until now every health professional has misunderstood her. I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed that some people have dismissed the notion of Orthorexia, (very rudely in some cases here). I can assure them it is real and the cause of misery. Dr Bratman should be supported in his endeavours to help sufferers and I applaud his efforts.”

D1Xcrunner writes: “I know this ‘healthy eating disorder’ is going to get a bad rap in a largely-overweight community, but as a national-caliber athlete, I can testify to how this is a disorder in itself. It’s not that the people are eating healthy, but that they are so mentally worried about eating “healthily” that they physically display symptoms of malnutrition. Maybe it’s because a “eat healthy or don’t eat at all” mentality gets developed.

The female distance runners on the national-caliber college team I am apart of all eat extremely healthy, but their focus on health leads to physical and mental health issues. The logic for these girls is “the more good foods I eat, the better, right?”

Granted, the cases I have seen may be leaning toward anorexia, or simply not eating enough, but I think this healthy eating disorder is a spin-off anorexia. Many people believe “I’m eating, therefore I can’t be anorexic,” but if they severely restrict what they are eating, they become amenorrheic, underweight, with low bone density, and very susceptible to injury and future health issues.

I doubt the cases I have seen are strictly “orthorexia,” but I imagine this mental disorder exacerbates many physical eating disorders.”

Jacqueline R writes, “Unfortunately it isn’t ridiculous, i have a very good friend who suffers from this condition and to see the distress it causes her and her family is heartbreaking, not knowing what to do to be able to help is so frustrating and upsetting, i just wish someone would offer her some help before it is too late.”

Stephanie writes, “I don’t think this is ridiculous at all, and I don’t think he wrote this just to make “abuck.” I can competely see how this obsession with healthy eating could lead to malnutrition and death. I’ve had food addiction and obsession problems in the past, and I know it’s so easy to get pulled into that trap if you have low self-esteem or control issues.”

Avary writes, “I know someone who suffers from orthorexia, and he loses weight like crazy yet just wants to eat healthy. It’s not ridiculous, it’s real. And it’s scary to watch a friend go through it, not being able to eat with his friends when they go out because he is so afraid of eating unhealthy foods. He has been trying to kick this disorder, and he has even expressed extreme dissatisfaction with his low weight. People with orthorexia need support, not criticism.”

Avery writes,“Absolutely wonderful! Thank you! I feel there is yet another classification: orthorexia paranoia. For over 30 years I’ve been controlling severe migraines, mood swings, asthma, muscular and joint pains with my diet. With the alternative being blinding, crippling pain and unpleasant, unsociable outbursts, the choice was easy enough to make. I am obsessive and somewhat gratified to find that – while it takes three to five years – eventually society seems to catch up to meeting my limitations. Then I develop another round of new allergies, need to move foods from the “can” section of the list to the “can’t”. Occasionally I wonder how sick I’d actually get if I just broke down and had that pizza and the fries, a taco and some peanut M&M’s, a hotdog, a pretzel, strawberry ice cream, some fresh mango, a sushi roll, some tempura and all the sauces, a BLT with mayo and a glass of orange juice or a cola… And I don’t try to find out. I drink a glass of warm filtered water and try to work up an interest in the stuff still on the “can” side of the list. And you’re right – this life style totally trashes a social life – unless I’m cooking, I can count on eating alone.”



40 thoughts on “Stories

  1. I recently purchased your book, I laughed, I cried, I cringed and at times felt like an absolute ‘twat!’. I know and have always known the root cause behind my healthy eating, unhealthy life controlling obsession but never truly faced up to it nor had the strategies to overcome it and be a balanced healthy individual. Now I have so…
    Thank you so very much!

    1. I am so glad you found it helpful! I think that the best use of the word orthorexia is that it can serve as a kind of mental signpost, a boundary not to go beyond even in search of healthy diet. And it seems to have been this for you. Best of luck!

  2. I forgot to mention that due to our way of life which is greatly modified since the early fifties, people like me need an anchor to hold on, something to prevent us from drifting the nowadays way of life in the industrial world.

    Eating healthy in proper amount is extremely complex. In order to make it, people predisposed to weight gain need to make a project of healthy eating, make it a hobby, a passion mainly a the point of not regaining the lost weight, once a healthy weight obtained.

    1. This is all true. The trick is doing so without becoming so obsessed that the obsession itself is as bad or worse as the original condition! What happens to some people is that healthy food becomes a universal cure-all, a way to ward off anxiety, not just about health, but about everything. When this happens, the idea of healthy food can become a kind of brain parasite, taking over your life, ceasing to serve you but rather making you its slave. If this happens, you have gone too far!

  3. I lost 49% of my weight 3 years ago. I maintain that weight. My BMI is 23.5. I am 67.

    I say to people and tell myself I am othorexique and proud to be.

    In this state of mind, it helps me somewhat to control my weight, as I may not be physically obese, but in my head I am a born obese and unfortunately will be all my life. There is no doubt in my mind that if I let go, In a matter of 16 months I would gain all the weight plus 10%

  4. Steven and David:

    Thank you so much for writing your book on Orthorexia. I’ve just finished it in one sitting and have thoroughly marked up my copy.

    For the past several years I have suspected that my OCD tendencies have honed in on food and felt that my eating was becoming disordered. What started as an attempt to cure a mysterious and insufferable rash and chronic digestive trouble turned into a food allergy avoidance rabbit-hole. For the past two years, my eating habits have been very rigid, something that makes eating fraught with anxiety and social situations exhausting, and food has become an enemy verses a point of nourishment. As with many people in your book, I welcomed self-denial as a virtue in itself, and phobias are excellent motivators to not “cheat” on a self-proscribed diet.

    It’s been so confusing, because it I really could not make myself eat my forbidden foods beyond my approved dozen or so foods. And if I did screw up the courage to try something new it often would give me the dreaded digestive trouble and anxiety symptoms I had been trying to avoid in the first place. It became a horrible self-fulfilling cycle. I tried a naturopath but felt daunted by all the herbs and supplements she suggested (what if I was allergic!!!) And the conventional doctor I saw agreed that gluten or dairy might be the culprit – but the only concrete thing he found was that I was severely vitamin D deficient. He even suggested a SIBO diet, which definitely helped but ruled out several of the foods I had once allowed myself and greatly conflicted with my self-diagnosed histamine intolerance. My disordered thinking took me so far beyond gluten and lactose intolerance, and because it was anxiety related, any food that seemed to trigger anxiety (which you can imagine became just about every one) was out. I so appreciated what you said about escaping the real problems of life through food-obsession, because food-management became a way to control my anxiety – that is, until it began to control me. I also think you are spot-on when you said food allergy diets can have intense side-effects, because while in some ways I feel physically healthy, I know I am not in an emotionally healthy place.

    Anyway, several weeks ago I saw an old clip MTV produced on Orthorexia http://www.mtv.com/videos/true-life-i-have-orthorexia/1683486/playlist.jhtml and immediately recognized that my eating habits had progressed beyond quirky to orthorexia. While the illogical “rules” of the TV-show people seemed foreign to me, the underlying articulation of The Best Way To Eat was not. And it was through that show – or perhaps the comments after it – that I discovered your book, and I’m so thankful I did.

    I resonate very deeply with some of the hidden reasons for orthorexia you discussed and see them tied in to past events and messages I’ve believed about the way the world works. I cried at several points in the book, because I am so thankful for the emotional insight, hope, and plain good sense your book offers.

    You asked at the end of the book if there was anything helpful your readers have found in leaving orthorexia behind. I am still in early days of the process, but for me I’ve found it helpful to surprise myself with a new food. Instead of mapping out when exactly I’m going to try a new food a la food-reintroduction on an allergy diet, which leads to further obsession and increased anxiety, I try and decide in the moment and swallow it right then and there. I remind myself that the physical sensations I feel afterward are because I am alive and my body is processing the food, not because I’ve spontaneously become allergic to blueberries.

    Also, I sense that a lot of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strategies that help with OCD behavior might also help with orthorexia. Controlled exposure to anxiety producing scenarios – e.g. eating something someone else has prepared, eating a casserole with unknown ingredients, eating in a restaurant – while high in anxiety, eventually strip the avoided-behavior of its power and provide habituation. At any rate, I plan to try some of them out and see what happens.

    Thank you again for writing your book. I cannot express the relief of finding someone who understands and has given voice to what felt like such a lonely experience.

    Best,

    Marissa

  5. Hey.

    You are defending the industry with the AMBIGUOUS orthorexia characteristics. I don’t believe that you had “orthorexia”. All the people that had “orthorexia” are conscious about how the industry and official science works.

  6. Wow! Thanks for naming it, I just found out about this disorder I suffered for more than a decade of vegetarianism. I consider those my eating disorder years, but didn’t realize it had a name. I’ve been eating normal for about 6 years now, on a diet that includes a healthy balance and portions of all the food groups. I’m still rediscovering food I love that I gave up during my dark years.

    The trouble with many of these extreme diets is that different subtle health problems pop up slowly over time, so people didn’t think to connect them to their diet or to each other. We tend to believe the diet gurus who sell us this garbage and when our health goes bad, we’re told to believe it’s our fault. We must not have done the diet “right,” so we double down and head to the health food store to cure the symptoms.

    Along with the physical side effects, I can totally relate to the social ones too. It’s nice to be able to dine with friends and family, without just nibbling around the edges of the feast–like just eating the green beans and potatoes, or having the hosts make special accommodations.

    Since I’m eating a much less rigid diet, I’ve found that my attitude has become much less rigid and my paranoia about food/health has disappeared. I’ve come to believe it’s much more unhealthy to freak out about food than to just eat a damn burger once in a while, no matter who says it’s unhealthy this week.

    Now I must go buy the book!

  7. my ex-husband, I believe, has this. We had a daughter diagnosed with cancer when she was young. Now, he is obsessed with eating healthy to the point of constantly forcing his family to eat as he does. He ridicules others for not following his eating behaviors. For example, if you have any health condition (ie. broken bone, pimple, cancer, flu), it is directly related to your eating habits and nothing else. He has lost a lot of weight, and looks anorexic. He eats only fruits, vegies, fish, beans and nuts. I could see how this could be a healthy diet, but given he is yellow, and so skinny, and obsesses about it all the time, it is not healthy. His food is more important than relationships, people he loves, etc. He, of course, does not think he has a problem. He just ‘gets’ what the rest of us don’t, and is living a higher law of health. Yet people ask me all the time if he is ill, as he looks terrible. And wow, is he controlling! When we were still married, he FORCED (through direct force, ridicule, throwing out foods, hiding foods, intimidating, belittling, etc) the kids to eat as he does. It was terrible. If anyone went against his newfound health laws (ie. drink a glass of milk, eat meat, drink juice, consume white flour or sugar, anything processed) he put the fear of God into them that they were going to get sick, probably cancer. If someone did get sick (ie. runny nose), it was/is because they ate unhealthy. What do I do?

  8. This has really opened up everything for me. I am 13 and after gorging myself over Christmas, i decided to follow a strict lifestyle, with an hour of hard going exercise everyday, and stopped myself from eating what I called “bad” foods. This led me to write down everything I ate in a food diary, and I was constantly paranoid about what I was eating, and drinking. I refused to let myself eat foods unless I was sure they were “healthy”. I would constantly be guilty of what I had eaten, and it never felt good enough, even if I had eaten a yogurt which was actually perfectly good for me. I looked down on other people who I thought were less healthy than me, if I ever saw them eating so much as a biscuit. It became competitive between my friends as I constantly wanted to be the healthiest, and I was convinced what I was doing was healthy and good for me. Gradually I lost weight, but I was so wrapped up in being perfect, that I had no idea it had consumed me so much. My family grew to be very distressed by what I was doing, as they could tell it was taking over me, as I was so focused on my weight and physique and was always checking calories, sugar and fat content. My BMI decreased to 16.8, and I think they must have caught me just before it became dangerous, because I was finally able to address the issue. My mum told me it was a form of anorexia,but I knew I wasn’t anorexically thin, so seeing this made me realise what I was gong through. I used to think it was ironic that something that i thought was healthy was actually so unhealthy. However, I am still constantly worried about my health, and I am glad that this has really shown me what was wrong. I think it is important that people are more aware of this issue, and angry about all of the comments saying that it is fake, because you don’t know how much it takes over your body until it could be too late. I am only fortunate that my family spotted it at the right time.

  9. When I first saw a documentary about orthorexia nervosa I realized I have had this..I call it “obsession” for the past 7 years. I wanted to loose weight after I graduated highschool so I began limiting the foods i eat to basically the same foods every single day. It started out with a half of a green pepper with a tablespoon of fat free italian dressing, one serving size of pretzels and peanut butter, and maybe some corn. Over the years I have been able to add some foods back into my diet such as chicken, brown rice, cheese, yogurt, and apples, but its pretty much only the foods I consider “safe”. This diet is absolutely exhausting on my mind and body. I barely ever go out to eat. But the results of weightlose have been so awesome that it keeps me stuck in this obsession. I feel if I change my diet I will gain weight almost instantainously and then will feel like I failed at what I worked so hard to accomplish. I know I need help..but don’t know where to start.

  10. I think the problem with orthorexia is that almost none of the hospitals are experts on the matter.I experienced it myself when I was diagnosed with anorexia, but the symptoms just didn’t match. The weightloss wasn’t due to feeling fat, but it was due to the drive to be healthy. So when they wanted me to ‘heal’, they started talking about: ‘Why do you think you are fat?’ ‘Did anyone ever say so?’
    And whenever I said things like: ‘I don’t feel fat, I don’t see a fat person staring at me from the mirror,’ they would think I was still in denial of having anorexia. Or that I was lying to avoid having to gain weight.
    I ‘healed’ with help of my mother, sister, brother and some of my friends. They helped me see that not everything containing some sort of fat was immediately ‘unhealthy’. And that not everything with more than a 100 kilocalories was bad for me.
    I will have to face the fact that I will always have difficulties with food, but what bugs me more is that so many people are doomed, because they are not getting the right help.
    I was lucky to have such family and friends, but I hope this will become acknowledged as a disease, because there are a lot of people out there who need help.

  11. I am desperate for anyone to provide insight to the problem we have been having. My sister is now 44 years old. She has been dangerously think since 1998 (for around 13 years now), mostly weighing less than 40kg and often dropping to less than 30kg (at the moment). She has always claimed to eat 3 meals a day and have snacks including chocolate and nuts. I have never considerered orthorexia before now. She has been in many clinics with failed attempts to help her as she thinks she is perfectly fine. She is not a typical case though because she would never spend money on anything organic. however she does not eat anything remotely unhealthy, not chocolate, fruit juice (contains sugar), crips, ice-cream, any desserts, pies, pastries, anything fried, meat, bananas, potatoes, white bread/ rolls or bagels. SHe mainly loves water and salad, little else. Does anyone think this could be orthorexia? and is there any treatment?

  12. I just have to add my two cents – I was so happy reading there is a “name” to this disorder of eating “healthy” and having it go out-of-control. When I was 33-years-old my allergies kicked in big time – sneezing nonstop day after day and headaches every single day (which I’d never had before). So, innocently enough, I started eating more raw veggies and going to the beach at least once a week. That was the start of “eating more healthy” – going from a meat and potato diet to, three years later, macro diet, rice fasts (which almost killed me); from meat to no meat to no diary products. I never had a weight problem – weighed 121 (I’m 5’6″) when I started “eating healthy” and three years later weighed 106. And I thought I looked okay when I started – except for “saddle bags”, but at 106 lbs I lost the fat thighs and looked like Twiggy. (Many years later when I see photos of myself back then I realize how very thin I was!) I was totally fixated morning, noon and night on what I ate. The reason I’m adding my comment is, I know at least two other women besides myself that started on a health food diet for “health” reasons (at least in their minds that was the reason), and after shedding quite a few pounds proceeded to shed their husbands! So underlying unhappiness and seeming not to have control in one’s life may play a part in starting something where the person has control. At least in my case I was able to do something I never thought possible – become my own person again by divorcing a megalomaniacal controling person. Soon after I left, my eating habits became more regular, including fish and chicken in my diet, and I quickly regained all my weight.
    Fast forward to now (my 70’s), about 20 lbs overweight, so I go on another health diet just to lose extra weight – and I have not gone on any other diets between then and now. My new weight-loss diet was not extreme and I lost 23 pounds over a year’s time, but my mental acuity was terrible, started having balance problems and mouth problems, etc. It turned out I was B12 and Vitamin D deficient – very deficient. What have I learned from all of this “trying to eat healthy with lousy consequences”? To paraphrase a quote from the Bible: “Take no thought of what you eat nor what you wear…..”. I think there is a simple wisdom of the body that will let you know what is good for you and what is not and that is when I’ve been the healthiest -just eating naturally, not overindulging and if for some reason I don’t, for instance, care for tea – I just don’t drink it. That you Dr. Bratman for your interest and findings re orthorexia.

  13. I think my husband has this, and it is destroying our marriage and my kids. He has morphed our diet for years trying to perfect it. He recently read “Curing Tooth Decay with Nutrition” and it is driving me crazy, he has cut out all dairy due to Fukushima and the radiation, fish for the same reason and now wants to cut out all grains due to antinutrients? My 8 yr old hides candy in his pillow case, and my husband is feeding raw liver to the 17 month old. The primary religion in our home is food. I am afraid he is raising our kids with eating disorders! I really need help!

  14. Thank you for the help in possibly identifying what I am going through Dr. Bratman.I have never had anorexia or bulimia. My story goes like this. I was born and a few weeks later I had projectile vomiting and constant illness until I was ten which is when the doctor who diagnosed me as a baby said it would stop. I have always had a nervous stomach and later IBS. I grew up in an emotionally disrupting household and when I was a teen I became seriously depressed and very controlling about everything in my life as well as what I am trying to control now, OCD. I started trying to find the perfect diet and still nothing felt right. I tried organic, then vegetarian, then vegan, then raw and now I am on primal. I think primal is very healthy but I recently caught myself obsessing to the point I was counting every carbohydrate I ate and every gram of protein and calories. I got so lost in it food lost its pleasure and I dragged my husband down as well.

    I recently saw how he enjoys food and it hurts that I cant do that I realized I had a problem when I expressed to him my views on food and he said plainly, ” Sweety you sound like you have an eating disorder, you worry me.” I obsessively worry about are we getting enough fats are we eating to many starchy vegetables, am I feeding my candida, does this fit in with the gut healing program I am following, are we having to much dairy. I no longer see food I see nutrients, sugar content and vitamins and minerals.

    I am 24 and my husband is supporting me and helping me through a lot. I am working on controlling my OCD but i think part of my problem is I have always been sick and it always involves my stomach and when my stomach gets sick my body automatically starts getting panic attacks. The few times I try to take a risk and just eat whatever somehow I always get sick then panicky and then I have to start watching and observing everything I eat like a hawk.

    Thank you for the website I am looking forward to reading your book.

  15. My story is that my daughter is 24 years old. She has been on a raw vegan diet for four years. Over the course of those years she has become a different person than the child I knew. She has alienated almost all of her family and friends through her preachiness and inflexibility with her diet and she refused to listen to those who loved her She is 97 pounds and 5 feet 7 inches tall. Recently she came home to live and all went well for a little while. Then she started complaining of chest pains and was severely distressed and said that she thought she was dying…she said she might have a brain tumor, cancer, or a heart problem and she was breathing rapidly. I brought her to the emergency room where she became very upset because the ER folks recognized that she was having a panic attack and was delusional. She said things like we were trying to poison her and that the house we lived in was full of poison and chemicals. She was hospitalized for 3 days and released, with a diagnosis of anxiety. About a week later she had a complete psychotic break…saying that the food in the house had to be thrown out because it had become contaminated simply by being in the house. She took all the organic food I purchased for her and threw it into the yard. When we looked in her room she had completely trashed it and had written in lipstick all over the walls, things like “all men are vampires” and “all women are whores”…nonsense really, but scary nonsense. She had written all over her body with paint and ran out of the house in just her underwear when we tried to get her to go to the hospital. After several attempts we had to go to a judge and get a court order to have her taken forcibly to a mental hospital, which is where we stand right now. I firmly believe that her complete mental breakdown has to do with her not getting the proper nutrients to support proper bodily functions. She already had been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and had stopped taking her thyroid medication because she said that her raw diet had “cured” it. She is absolutely at rock bottom, at least I hope this is rock bottom, because I am afraid for her, very afraid that she will die if they cannot help her.

  16. You say you are an Orthorexic. Are you a generally healthy person, or are you malnourished and underweight because of your beliefs and fears of what goes into our food and water? My mother is 49 but looks 10 years older. She is 5″6 and 90 lbs. Her hair is falling out. She has 6% body fat, and her heart is working way harder than it should be. This is all because she has the same way of thinking as you. Does this description of someone who is striving to be healthy not sound like the biggest contradiction you’ve ever heard?!? COME ON! GIVE ME A BREAK! I would rather eat and drink all the crap you listed and be the healthy person I am than cut out virtually every food group on the planet and look and feel like my mother. You’ve got to choose the lesser of the two evils here and meet somewhere in the middle. Either extreme is bad, but I will NEVER become an Orthorexic. God help you.

  17. Today Petroleum chemicals are in our soft drinks, chewing gums, hair dyes, lotions, cosmetics, meat, dairy and fast foods. They are sprayed on our food crops, fed and injected into the animals that we consume. Fluoride is dumped into our drinking water supplies even though many scientists refute its dental benefits and link it to bone cancer, thyroid problems, fluorosis, lower I.Q. and ADD. Adolf Hitler used fluoride to make his prisoners “stupid and more docile to authority” and fluoride is widely used in the manufacture of tranquilizers. It seems absurd that we would pay the chemical industry to dispose of their toxic waste by adding it to our water supply! But that is exactly what we are doing. We are poisoning our own food and water supplies and we are paying for it with our tax dollars and our health.

    These chemical additives have made the chemical industry the richest and most powerful entity in the world. Powerful enough to get cloned-cow milk hastily approved by the FDA without any long-term testing or labeling required. Genetically altered foods (GMO’s) now make up 80% of the food at your local grocery store. We no longer know what we are eating or drinking.

    This is why I am Orthorexic.

      1. John,

        “Orthorexia” is not meant to be used as some kind of slur to be used against people who hold beliefs one might differ with. Emery clearly has some strong alternative health beliefs. That does not translate into “severe” orthorexia.

  18. Hello,

    I work at a national UK women’s magazine called Full House, and I write the health pages.

    I am currently looking for someone with Orthorexia who would like to feature in the magazine. It would require an interview over the phone, and we would also need some pictures to accompany the article.

    If anyone would like to discuss this with me. please email me on dawn.murden @ fullhousemagazine .co.uk.

    Thanks.

  19. A concerned family member first mentioned the term ‘orthorexia’ to me after searching for reasons behind my eating/exercise habits. After doing a little research, I discovered ‘Health Food Junkies’ and was astonished at how precisely I ‘fit’ into the disorder. Before that I had researched anorexia, bulimia as well as other disorders but there had been key symptoms I did not have. It wasn’t until I read Dr. Bratman’s book that I understood my condition more completely than ever before.

    The cycle of obsessiveness that defines orthorexia as well as the paradox (can begin with a desire to be healthier) defines my situation. Although it was a relief to finally have a name to connect to my condition, the book also made me aware of the difficulty I will have breaking out of it’s destructive nature.

    As I am still struggling with this condition, I will use the tools and information given to me through the book to help me begin the healing process.

    Thank you Dr. Bratman for giving me the knowledge to identify my disorder, the tools to rid myself from it, and the hope to know that one day I will prevail over ‘orthorexia’.

  20. Dear Dr Bratman, I have been tyrannised by my orthorexic parents throughout my life – I am now middle-aged! They are vegans of the most extreme kind and genuinely think that meat eaters are murderers. They are as extreme as the Taliban and think nothing of tyrannising their own family while appearing reasonable to the outside world. People who do not conform to their levels of dietary purity ‘disgust’ them in private. This is just control freakery of the most outrageous kind, but one that is licensed by the hippy generation. Their parents got uptight about sexual morality; they have locked onto food morality.
    The insidious thing is that this is all done out of supposed compassion for the animals they aren’t eating … too bad that their own family and friends are forced to lie to them about what they eat … I have never written about them this way before, but now I am doing so, I realise they are absolutely CRAZY! Help! How can I deal with them without appearing cruel and heartless … I feel so conflicted … Every time I eat something I feel like they are watching me through hidden CCTV cameras … Let’s get this condition out in the open now, please!

  21. Dear Dr. Bratman,

    Thank you so much for broadening the definition of eating disorders. I have found the focus on traditional eating disorders makes it difficult to find appropriate support/treatment options for my daughter. She is neither orthorexic or anorexic. But.. she is overally controlling of her food intake to the point that at 13 she is at the 3rd percentile for her age/height. I hope your insights will inspire more research into anxiety, OCD and other control-based conditions as triggers for “rexic” behavior.

    FYI we have a great team of medical folks helping us but breaking the habit/cycle is a huge challenge.

    Thanks again.
    D

  22. Dr. Bratman, thank you so much for this website. I plan to buy your book today, however, my problem is that my son, who I suspect suffers from this condition, is a young adult, and I don’t know how to help him. My husband and I are so worried about him. He is highly gifted, has always been a perfectionist (mildly OCD without rituals), and exhibits all of the symptoms you describe.

    All I ever wanted as a parent is for my children to be comfortable with themselves as this is the main criterion to attain contentment. Needless to say, he is not and my heart breaks for him everyday he continues to punish his body this way. How can we help him help himself???

  23. So, I have this friend who is completely and totally surrounded by this disease. She’s always been thin, and she’s tall too so its been hard for her to gain weight anyways. We did a health unit in school, and let me just say that this friend was the girl who could eat a whole gallon of ice cream with oreos in a sitting and not feel a thing, anyways, in the unit, you had to write down everything you eat for 3 or 4 days. So she does this and realizes ‘oh, i eat a lot’. Next thing we know, she only eats organic foods and absolutely nothing otherwise. She also loves sports. Track season was right around the corner and with the eating and the exercise, she started to lose weight. She’s had personality changes too. For instance, her boyfriend is no longer allowed to touch her, she watches people eat around her, she brings her own food everywhere, and she’s tired and irritable a lot. Her boyfriend is very worried because he says she has lost a significant amount of weight already and she was rail-thin to begin with. We’ve tried to drop hints about the food issue, but she gets deffensive and doesn’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to lose her, but is intervention possible at this point? I’ve read the stories and another mom has even talked to her parents, but this ‘thing’ is controlling everyone! I just want my old friend back.

    1. Are You Obsessed with Healthy Food? Documentary Casting

      Gigantic Productions is casting for a nationally televised documentary on young people who are obsessed with eating healthy or “pure.”

      Are you constantly worried about what you can eat and what is in your food? Do you think most foods are dangerous to your health? Are you afraid to eat food that isn’t raw, organic, unprocessed or local? Or maybe you read food labels obsessively and avoid foods with fats, preservatives, additives and animal products. Has this compulsion led you to shed weight, feel weak and suffer panic attacks or severe anxiety? Do you refuse to eat at restaurants or friends’ houses? Are you isolating yourself from friends and family to hide your obsession?

      If you’ve taken a healthy diet too far, you may be eligible to appear in a nationally-television documentary on a major channel. If this sounds like you and you appear to be between the ages of 16 and 24, email us at casting@gigantic.tv and tell us your story. Please include your name, location, phone number, email and a recent photo of yourself.

  24. I just wanted you to know that your book was of great help to me a few years ago. I had slowly slid into Raw-veganism and, for me, it was unhealthy because I was obsessed. It’s quite a rabbit hole to fall into, if, like me, you have a perfectionistic/addictive personality. It didn’t last long and I came across your book when I was just contemplating leaving the Raw-Vegan lifestyle. There’s so much shame and (probably unintentional) manipulation in that lifestyle, if one is plugged into message boards or local groups. I felt enormous guilt and anguish at the thought of transistioning back to more balanced eating, and that is when I found your book. It was like “The Emporer’s New Clothes” and I felt such relief to know that, yeah, I had been crazy and that now I could eat whatever food and be ok. More importantly, I eventually overcame the obsession with food itself. By the way, I totally relate to the episode you wrote about the avocado at it’s peak stage of ripeness and your urgency to eat it. So true, lol! To haters: eat whatever you like, even vegan raw. As long as you don’t obsess over your diet, judge others morally on their diet and are able to comfortably eat foods not on your diet (rather than starve), you are perfectly fine and don’t fit the orthorexia criteria. No one is saying your ideology is wrong. It’s the people like me, who become obsessed who are/were sick who can be labled, so just chill out. Thanks, Dr. Bratman!!!

    1. @M. I have a very similar story. I am still recovering from it. The worse thing was when I realized I had to stop my obsession, and decided to go “cold turkey” and stop reading or listening to anything about “healthy eating”, and experienced “withdrawal symptoms” this was the most horrible sensation I ever felt, I never thought that something like that could happen to someone other than drug addicts, but somehow it happened to me. I haven’t figured out how or why this happened yet, all I want to do is leave the obsession behind and continue to recover. Reading about other people’s experience helps a lot. Only my faith in God and the love of my family were able to keep me strong during those times.

  25. My name is Lindsay and I’m only 16 years old from Virginia. I loved reading the book Health Food Junkies about orthorexia nervosa, because I went through a huge road black in my life from this disorder last year. Ultimately I became closer to my faith from the church, strived to be closer with my friends and family, and used other ways to successfully manage my stress. Almost going to the hospital from being so underweight- it happened more suddenly and unexpectedly than I ever could imagine- was what it took to realize how serious of a condition I was in and how I couldn’t live such a restricted lifestyle anymore. Recovery is a complete process and doesn’t happen in just one day or flick of a switch. It took a while to emerge from the bubble of a mindset I was in, labeling everything as good or bad. I’m still working on steps to remember that living my life to the fullest is the most important thing. I still eat perfectly at home (fruit, steamed vegetables, 100% fat-free protein) as I haven’t been able to fully let go of my ways, but have started to begin living in social situations. My youth group once a week is hosted at a different person’s house and always includes different options for dinner where I’ve eaten barbecue, white pasta, cherry pie, and other foods outside of my comfort zone. But this will be the gradual exposure I need to one day break free from orthorexia. I just have to keep telling myself that forcing this food down is helping me get healthy (mentally) more than harming me in the long run physically. I also turn to writing to cope and express my feelings. Attached is a piece that I have composed about my orthorexia. I remain inspired today to go to college for a degree in Dietetics & Psychology in order to pursue my passion of nutrition while also helping others going through eating disorders. Orthorexia is one dear to my heart because I know exactly what it is like to go through it and I love sharing my story to raise awareness about this disease. Thank you so much for listening to my story! Here is a link as well incase the attachment doesn’t open for some reason: Teen Ink Health Article: My Quest for Health Turned Dangerous
    Lindsay :)

    1. Lindsay, Why not try a career away from food. Just don’t think about it – get into something, else – please! My orthorexic parents have been health food nuts for thirty years. They have made my life a misery because they constantly think and talk about food. They managed to give me extreme dietary stress and digestive disorders through their obsessions.
      Just leave the food issue behind and get into something more interesting.

  26. my sister in law is a vegan gluten free, organic buying health nut. it has gotten so bad she talks about having her daughter, 4 years old,avoid fatty foods because once a fat cell is made it never goes away and just shrinks and can come back at any time. Her daughter had a cough that wouldnt go away so the pediatrician told her to slow down on the dairy b/c she may be allergic. My sister in law took ALL dairy out of this poor little girls diet. Comes to find out while she was busy trying to control her daughters diet she was neglecting he fact that her daughter ACTUALLY has RSV. now she is ona respirator and will suffer from asthma for the rest of her natural life. it is soo sad to see and it makes me sick, what can I do?

  27. I have read much about this condition but what about this?
    I have a married sibling with 3 kids and this is how they all live/eat. There have been many stages to their dietary obsessions, and the latest phase is the raw food diet and they are wasting away. My sister in law started all of this about 10 years ago with organic only and now it is raw food and “lower calories” to live longer… She controls every morsel of food in the house. They have socially isolated themselves down to the kids getting home schooled.
    It is not fair on the children (all under 12) they are so thin it is frightening.
    I can’t say anything because they are the ‘enlightened ones’ – anything I say gets turned into a personal attack on my family and our lifestyle.
    They say they are so full of energy and feeling so fantastic (that euphoria?) that I almost feel it is too late to try and do something because they are chemically “too far gone”…..
    None of them look healthy, hair is dry, parents are so wrinkly they look 15 years older…. But they are so convinced they know what they are doing – she is some kind of expert now thanks to the internet…… Is intervention possible and where does one even start?

  28. hi, why not make a youtube channel dr bratman ? and people can ask you questions and you would raise more awareness of it ? unless you already have a youtube channel of it .

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